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Signs of poisoning in dogs

The essentials

  • Accidental poisonings are common among dogs — Dogs are notorious for getting into all kinds of things around the house, many of which are harmless to humans but toxic to pets.
  • Keep a close eye on what your dog gets into — Take care to keep food, alcohol, medications, household products, and houseplants out of your dog’s reach.
  • Seek immediate veterinary care if you think your dog’s been poisoned — Acting quickly can minimize the damage dogs suffer and even save their life.

No matter how attentive we try to be as pet owners, we can’t always be around to watch our dogs. When we’re out of the house and the dog gets into food, medication, or other common household items, they can experience the adverse — sometimes lethal — effects of accidental poisoning.

We can normally prevent dog poisoning by keeping potential toxins locked up and out of sight. When we can’t prevent it, it becomes crucial to follow directions and give your veterinarian as much information as you can.

Dog poisoning symptoms to watch for

There’s no one symptom you can use to diagnose poisoning in dogs since clinical signs tend to differ depending on the type of toxin. However, most cases of dog poisoning trigger common gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms like:

What to do when your dog eats toxic substances

On their own, many of these symptoms are not inherently indicative of poisoning. Stay calm if you notice your dog exhibiting multiple poisoning symptoms at once, or if you catch your dog interacting with a harmful substance, and follow these steps to get them the appropriate treatment:

  1. Start by separating your dog from the poisonous substance — Take note of the substance (if possible), and any symptoms your dog is experiencing to give your vet a full understanding of the situation later on.
  2. Call up the vet — If their office is closed, try calling a pet poison hotline or local emergency clinic. Describe the situation to them and ask what the best course of action is. Your first thought might be to take your dog into the vet’s office straight away — but in some severe cases of poisoning, it’s better to induce vomiting at home to get the poison out of their system as quickly as possible.
  3. Collect samples — If the substance or packaging is still around, safely collect a sample of the poison and bring it in. You can also try collecting a sample of your dog’s vomit if they’ve thrown up. Even just knowing the brand name, ingredient list, or how much your dog ate can make a huge difference in speeding up the treatment process.
  4. Follow the vet’s instructions — Listen carefully and do exactly as the vet tells you; their instructions might just save your dog’s life.

Pet poison hotlines

If your dog exhibits poisoning symptoms and you’re unable to reach your vet, call the ASPCA 24/7 Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661. Both of these organizations charge a $75 consultation fee, but this cost can sometimes cover follow-up consultations, too. Pet parents can also pay $99 to join the American Kennel Club (AKC) Vetline and get round-the-clock access to medical advice for any and all ailments.

Common poisonous substances for dogs 

The following foods, medications, and household items are considered poisonous to dogs because they disturb their body’s normal functions and damage their tissues and organs. Because a dog’s metabolism differs significantly from a human’s, substances that are safe for us to consume can be fatal to them. Some poisons are more dangerous than others, and some are only dangerous if consumed in large quantities.

Chocolate and caffeine

Chocolate is the most common human food responsible for dog poisoning. This is the result of the stimulant theobromine, which, like caffeine, is a methylxanthine compound that dogs’ systems can’t properly metabolize. Methylxanthines are rapidly absorbed into a dog’s gastrointestinal tract and trigger symptoms including panting, dehydration, hyperactivity, high temperature and blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Generally speaking, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the higher the concentration of theobromine and the more danger it poses to dogs. Chocolate poisoning is rarely fatal in dogs but has no known antidote, so it’s treated through a combination of gastrointestinal decontamination and supportive treatment.

Garlic and onions 

Vegetables and herbs belonging to the allium family, including garlic, onions, chives, shallots, and leeks cause gastrointestinal irritation among dogs. The dried and powdered forms of these herbs are much more concentrated than their fresh counterparts, meaning they pose a much higher risk of poisoning. Early signs include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and dehydration, but the full effects of the poison may take several days to appear.

Plants in the allium family cause red blood cell damage that can lead to more serious complications related to anemia, including kidney damage and death in extreme cases. Be on the lookout for pale gums, increased heart rate and breathing, lethargy or weakness, brown urine, and jaundice for the first week after the poisoning. No antidote currently exists for this type of toxicosis, but you can still get supportive care for your dog through the vet.

Grapes and raisins 

While the cause was long unclear to veterinary professionals, even a small amount of grapes, raisins, or currants can trigger acute kidney failure in dogs, which is now known to likely be caused by tartaric acid. Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and trembling commonly appear a few hours after ingestion, while more serious complications like kidney failure can take up to 72 hours to develop. See a vet for immediate decontamination treatment if you think your dog has eaten grapes or raisins.


It’s common for dogs to get sick after ingesting human medications lying around the house. Some medications are only poisonous at high doses, while others are dangerous to dogs at any dose.

The most common culprits of medication-related poisoning are popular over-the-counter and prescription medications, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, and Advil. NSAID complications can result in gastric ulcerations, perforations, liver damage, and the development of neurological, heart, and muscular problems.

Dogs can also experience adverse side effects from ingesting ADHD medication, blood pressure medications like ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, and sleeping medications like Xanax, Ambien, and Valium. Some dogs experience flea and tick medication poisoning after receiving a high dose of preventative pet medication, with symptoms including gastrointestinal issues, irritability, and in some cases tremors, seizures, and death.

🚨 Always keep medications, both for humans and animals, out of reach from your pets.

Rodenticides and insecticides

Pest control poisons are often placed at ground level around the house, and their easy accessibility makes them highly dangerous for our pets.

Anticoagulant rodenticides are commonly used to kill mice and rats by triggering uncontrolled bleeding, but they can also have the same effect on dogs. Many dogs don’t show signs of anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning right away but may exhibit bleeding from the nose or mouth 3 to 7 days after ingesting the poison, or internal bleeding accompanied by coughing, lethargy, an increased respiratory rate, difficulty breathing, pale gums, lack of appetite, pain and swelling in the joints and abdomen, vomiting, bloody or dark tar-like stools, and bruising.

Some slug and snail baits and pellets contain a compound known as metaldehyde, which is extremely poisonous to dogs even in small amounts. Typical symptoms include severe tremors or seizures and an extremely elevated body temperature, occurring minutes to hours after ingestion.

While many dogs can make a full recovery from metaldehyde poisoning in just 2 to 3 days with the right treatment, untreated cases can result in respiratory failure, liver failure, and even death.

Household products

Household cleaners and detergents may be good for keeping our homes clean, but they can also wreak havoc if our dogs get into them. Products like antifreeze, bleach, and fabric softener can cause burns, ulcers, seizures, and fever in addition to vomiting and diarrhea.

Treatment for this type of poisoning involves the use of agents like active charcoal to decontaminate the dog’s GI tract, but it’s fairly easy to prevent as long as you keep these products locked up and out of reach.


Several species of plants and flowers are toxic to dogs, but all plants have the potential to cause gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Even common household varieties like tulips, lilies of the valley, oleander, and sago palm can lead to serious complications including death, so always make sure to do your research before exposing your pup to potentially toxic plants.

Essential oils derived from certain plants also have a high risk of toxicity for dogs. Adverse side effects include difficulty breathing and/or walking, muscle tremors, drooling, pawing at the mouth or face, and depression of the central nervous system.

Vitamin D

Dogs need vitamin D to properly absorb calcium, but an excess of vitamin D can result in poisoning. This commonly results from the consumption of supplements containing vitamin D2 and/or vitamin D3, rat poison containing vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), or topical psoriasis medications like ointments and creams. In some cases, poorly formulated dog food, whether commercially prepared or homemade, can also contribute to vitamin D poisoning.

Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning start appearing 12 to 36 hours after ingestion, and their severity depends on the dose. Smaller doses can result in vomiting, diarrhea, increased drinking and urination, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, and depression. Higher doses can raise the body’s calcium and phosphorous levels to unsafe levels, resulting in difficulty breathing, intentional bleeding, abnormal heart rhythms, and kidney failure. Vitamin D poisoning can be fatal for dogs if left untreated.

How vets treat poisoning in dogs

Treatment for dog poisoning mostly depends on the type of poison, which is why it’s critical to give the vet as much information about the situation as you can. Blood tests can help determine the cause of your dog’s symptoms, but vets cannot test for every possibility.

Whatever the cause of the poisoning might be, most vets’ primary goal will be to stop the body’s absorption of the substance. Depending on how and when your dog came into contact with the poison, a vet might induce vomiting, use an adsorbent like activated charcoal to remove toxins from the stomach, or flush out parts of the digestive system via an enema or gastric lavage (in which a tube is passed into the dog’s stomach to introduce water).

Some poisons like antifreeze can be counteracted with a known antidote. In other cases, vets may use diuretic drugs to help a dog pass the poison through urination.

Between procedures, IV drips, overnight monitoring, and exam fees, poisoning treatment can run dog owners anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Of course, the cost is more than worth it if it means saving your dog’s life. Remember to keep a close eye on them afterward to ensure they’re staying hydrated and steadily regaining their health.

Dogs are bound to get into harmful substances at least once in their life. If you suspect your dog might be experiencing poisoning, the most important thing is to get them away from the substance and call up the vet. Follow their instructions carefully and limit your dog’s exposure to other potential poisons around the house, and you’ll find your buddy is back to their old self in no time.

Frequently asked questions

How do you know if your dog has been poisoned?

Poisoning symptoms differ depending on the substance, but you’ll know for sure if you catch your dog in the middle of eating a harmful substance. Additionally, most forms of dog poisoning are accompanied by common signs including vomiting, diarrhea, bloody red or tarry black stools, tremors, and seizures. Call a veterinarian immediately if you think your dog has been poisoned.

How long does it take for a dog to show signs of poisoning?

It depends on the substance your dog ingested. Some toxins like antifreeze cause immediate physical reactions in dogs, while others may not appear to cause any severe signs for days before causing rapid deterioration.

Can a dog recover from poisoning on its own?

While some minor cases of poisoning may resolve themselves over time, it’s always better to seek medical attention to get your dog safe, effective treatment for their condition.

How can I treat my dog’s poisoning at home?

After you’ve separated your dog from the poison, try wiping their mouth with a damp towel, or rinsing their paws and skin if they’ve come into physical contact with the toxin. Call up the vet immediately and listen to their instructions on what to do next. Unless the vet specifically tells you to induce vomiting, do not attempt to treat your dog’s poisoning at home beyond this point. Professionals can help detox their systems much more safely and effectively.

How do you neutralize dog poisoning?

The only way to neutralize a poison is to use an antidote that counteracts its effects. However, only some poisons have known antidotes. For others, the only real treatment is a combination of vet-assisted detoxification and time.